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The Complete Cruiser . . .

Goes to the Beach

by Brent Betit

Picture this: you're on a long-awaited Caribbean cruise in the dead of winter, the turquoise sea sparkling, a heady, salt sea breeze ruffling your hair, and the sun dazzling off the chop of ocean combers as you lift a chilled glass of French champagne to click against your significant other's.

Now picture the scene with every element identical but one: you're suffering from one of those third-degree, three alarm sunburns, seared so badly that your joints actually creak as you move, and the ice in some guy's glass next to you melts just from the heat radiating outward from your fried skin. You're so red that during your St. Thomas shore excursion, a dog mistook you for a fire hydrant and. . . well, you get the picture. What kind of moron would spoil a vacation by getting a sunburn like that?

If you raised your hand, I couldn't tell anyway, could I? But if you did, consider yourself a charter member of a new association I recently formed, the Morons at Sea Society [MASS]. There are, as you might imagine, masses of us. One criterion for membership: suffering a three alarm sunburn on a Caribbean cruise. Membership may be obtained through application and a small, annual fee. A really silly looking T-shirt or hat costs extra. The application has a brief essay section in which you must describe a totally dumb thing you did on a cruise. I gained membership by falling asleep on Orient Beach in St. Martin and waking up with the white outline of a pair of folded sunglasses on my chest. That was the only part of my skin that didn't peel off over the next week or so.

Fortunately, while there is no antidote for a sunburn, immunization is relatively easy to accomplish: you need to come prepared for the Caribbean sun and sand. My beach kit contains all of the following:

  • A waterproof sunblock with an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of at least 30. You should be aware that SPF ratings are supplied by manufacturer's testing, and that recent research has demonstrated that the average sun worshipper uses sunblock far too sparingly for it to have a reasonable effect. In fact, during manufacturer's testing, it has been reported that quantities used are about four times what the average beachgoer uses. So slather it on!

  • Sun blocking lip balm. Caribbean sun is pretty fierce -- far more powerful than most of you are accustomed to. Many manufacturers now produce lip balm that doubles as sun block. Don't forget your lips. Have you ever tried managing a romantic evening with sunburned lips?

  • Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB. Both of these are forms of ultraviolet rays that can damage the eyes. Don't buy those cheapies at the corner drugstore that darken the sun but don't actually block ultraviolet. Because they cause the pupil to open wider, thus letting more light into the eye, they are actually worse than no sunglasses at all. A good pair of sunglasses will have a sticker signifying that they block UV.

  • Water shoes. You know: those stretchy shoes with rubber soles that aren't damaged by water. Sure, they make a less-than-hip fashion statement, but when you're headed back to the ship at the end of the day, you can sit right down in the waves and rinse off your feet before slipping your water shoes back on. This prevents you from squidging around in sand-filled shoes all the way back to the ship (one of my pet peeves). A side benefit: you may find them useful when entering the bathrooms at the beach, some of which get a good deal of use. So spring for the twelve dollars it will cost to buy a pair of water shoes. Who cares if you look like a nerd. Water shoes are a required part of the MASS beach uniform.

  • Waterproof valuables bag. Magellans and Frommers both sell a completely watertight bag with a neck cord that allows you to bring limited amounts of valuables into the surf with you -- boarding card, cash, key to your cabin, credit cards. It is quite unwise to leave such things in your bags on the beach, and unfair that one of you has to baby-sit the valuables while the other is frolicking in the surf. You can purchase a reasonably-priced waterproof bag on-line at http://www.magellans.com.

  • Binoculars. It is fun to take a closer look at all the sights at the beach: jetski riders, sailboarders, ships, palatial homes clinging to the slopes adjacent to the ocean. I have a small, self-focusing pair that don't take up much space and are perfectly adequate. If you are discreet, your wife or husband won't clobber you when you (accidentally) focus on that attractive blonde 300 yards away.

  • Camera. Keep your expensive camera in a slide-lock plastic bag when not in use to prevent fine grit and sand from damaging its delicate workings. For more ingenious ways to use slide-lock bags ad nauseum, visit my One Zip Cruiser SeaLetter column.

  • Hat. A wide-brimmed hat (or even a baseball cap) will prevent you from sunburning your forehead and the tops of your ears. If you've ever done that, you won't want to again. It brings an entirely new meaning to the term "ear-ache." At many beaches, you can also rent beach umbrellas and lounge chairs for a reasonable sum.

  • Towels. You don't need to bring these from home. When you're in port, the towel staff (yes, they have people who pretty much do nothing but launder and fold towels aboard) will sign you out some towels before your trip to the beach. Just make sure someone checks off your name when you board ship again, or you could find a charge for towels on your shipboard account statement at the end of the cruise.

  • Bathing suit.

Just testing you with that one. If I really needed to include this on the list, consider yourself a potential member of the Morons at Sea Society. And if you want to join voluntarily, just send me an email for an application. This will arrive in a plain paper envelope. Your neighbors and postal workers need never know your secret.

Happy cruising.


Brent BetitBrent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children.

Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Brent Betit" as your search phrase.

Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.

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